I go to high school games to catch a glimpse of the future, to see future college and pro stars develop before my eyes. And with a matchup of two future stud point guards, I lucked into a special game on Saturday night.
The Dunn Center at Elizabeth High School was packed to the rafters to see St. Patrick (No. 3 in the nation) face off with St. BenedictÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s (No. 10). Besides the elite coaches involved Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Kevin Boyle and Danny Hurley, two guys who could find themselves in the college ranks before too long Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the marquee matchup was at the point, where Duke-bound Kyrie Irving of St. PatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s faced off with St. BenedictÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s junior Myck Kabongo, who is heading to Texas.
St. Patrick, No. 1 in America until last MondayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one-point loss to Findlay Prep, was without forward Michael Gilchrist, the No. 1 junior in the country, who missed the game with a family illness, continuing a tough run that has included knee and ankle injuries. As it turned out, that Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and the fantastic play of Kabongo Ã¢â‚¬â€œ was the difference in the game.
With most considering Irving the best guard in New Jersey Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and one of the top two or three in the nation Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it was obvious Kabongo came into the game with a chip on his shoulder. In the first half, Kabongo demonstrated an ability to penetrate and create for others, while Irving had a difficult time in the first half as his shots just werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t falling, though he had St. PatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ahead by 2 at the half.
Right before the half, Irving elevated for a dunk attempt but was administered a very hard foul, leading to the first of two tenuous moments between the two teams. To the credit of Boyle, Hurley and the two schoolsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ administrations, the situations were effectively diffused. But it just went to show how important a statement game it was for these local and national powers.
St. BenedictÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wore down a Gilchrist-less St. PatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team and eventually took a nine-point lead with about six minutes left. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s when Irving took over the way he did down the stretch against Findlay, scoring 12 points on a variety of slick moves and flawless free-throw shooting. His signature play came with St. BenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clinging to a three-point lead, when he blocked a shot emphatically, drove coast to coast and fed Derrick Gordon for a three-point play to tie the game.
But Kabongo was outstanding as well, with St. PatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unable to keep him out of the paint. Kabongo singlehandedly kept St. BenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s afloat in a back-and-forth game, getting to the line twice in a row and then finishing off a 65-64 win with a dazzling leaning layup after driving the length of the court. It appears Texas might be getting the second coming of T.J. Ford. After leading a raucous celebration, Kabongo spoke his mind:
Now I want to know who the best guard in New Jersey is? Everybody says itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s him and I got a case for it.
As impressive as Kabongo was, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to make a case against Irving, who ended with 26 points. IrvingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s personal credo is famously Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hungry and Humble,Ã¢â‚¬Â and this translates on the court, as he follows the most spectacular of plays with little to no animation, even after the stunning game-tying block-assist combo. (Kabongo could do well to take notes on his demeanor) This characteristic reminds me of current Duke guard Nolan Smith, as they will surely form one of the coolest, most collected backcourts in the country next year.
But make no mistake, Irving will develop the fire heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to need to thrive in the ACC. His first game against North Carolina will draw that out of him Ã¢â‚¬â€œ as could a potential rematch with St. BenedictÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in the state tournament. Watching him confidently bringing the ball down the court with his team down one late and all eyes on him, I could actually picture him excelling in that very situation next season.
I feel as if Irving carries a great deal of the burden of his teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lofty ranking and expectations on his own shoulders. After a shot rims out on a sensational drive, you actually can see on his face how much it wears on him, and how much he expects of himself. I think for Irving, nothing is ever good enough; heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the rare sort of player for whom nothing will ever make him content.
And that is exactly why you can tell already that he is destined for great things.